We live in a time when a cacophony of voices can pull the practicing Catholic in a variety of directions. Over the years I have heard people complain about feeling that they were in a no-win situation.
One husband complained to me that his wife wanted him to work longer hours because money was so tight and simultaneously spend more time with the kids because she felt he wasn’t in their lives enough. I’ve also heard hard-working, efficient employees complain that their managers wanted even more work done in less time.
We also have fallen, internal voices — which we inherited from Adam and Eve — that try to lead us down the road to perdition. Voices within often encourage an over-attachment or idolatry to one or more of the four substitutes for God that Aquinas wrote about: wealth, pleasure, power, and honor.
These voices tell us that we can jettison the teaching of the Magisterium and be our own arbiters of truth and morality. They receive support from the dominant culture in the diabolical trinity of the media, academia, and the entertainment industry in telling us to “follow our heart,” embrace our truth,” and “listen to the god within.”
Satan is a kind of choir director who tries to assemble these voices in such a way to have the maximum, corrosive effect on our souls. The more chaos, confusion, and discord in our lives, the more he likes it.
At Horeb the Lord appeared to Elijah, but before this appearance, the prophet experienced a powerful windstorm, earthquake, and large fire—all three of which Yahweh was not in. But he was in what followed these major events: a gentle whisper (I Kings 19:12), what the King James Version translates as “a still, small voice.”
One way for the practicing Catholic to block out the insidious, cacophony of voices is to daily ask two questions: (1) Where am I going and (2); How am I going to get there? The first question can also be articulated as who am I to become?
Who Am I To Become?
By determining what kind of person God wants us to be when we stand before Christ at the Particular Judgment (the Judgment Seat of Christ), we can get a singular goal for the present that simplifies our lives and renders the “devil’s choir” mute. The biblical witness is both clear and abundant concerning this question:
As we stand before him, Christ want us to be “conformed to his image,” (Rom. 8:29) and he assures us, that in this life, he “is able to keep you [us] from falling and to present you [us] without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing” (Jude 1:24). And, more than just the individual believer, Christ wants “to present the Church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27).
Put simply, he wants us to become saints. We see the End and make changes in the present to accomplish it.
We are like a 14-year-old violinist who is a prodigy. We want to be like Jascha Heifetz, regarded by some as the greatest who ever played, and we make changes to get there: practice, practice, practice.
Perhaps this gives new meaning to the words “practicing Catholic.” We keep practicing until we get it right.
Charles Peguy said, “There is only one tragedy in the end: Not to have been a saint.” He is looking at the present through the lens of eternity and has found the one goal that contains all the other important goals, the umbrella that provides shelter for all the other goods.
God the Father wants us to bear a striking resemblance to his Son in thought, word, and deed.
How Do I Get There?
While eternity provides the clues for who we are to become, it also shows us how to get there. Look at the Beatific Vision: what we will be doing in that blessed state discloses what activities are most important in our present sojourn.
Earth is pre-algebra; heaven will be algebra. On earth we get the appetizer and salad, in heaven, we will be getting the main course and dessert; on earth we get the engagement ring from the Groom (the Holy Spirt; see Eph. 1:10); in heaven we will participate in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7) and the union will be consummated.
In the Beatific Vision, we are in contemplation of, communion with, and adoration of Christ. We practice these things in this life because they get us ready for heaven by transforming us into saints.
In partaking of the Eucharist, the Source and Summit of our faith, and in the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, we are in contemplation of, communion with, and adoration of Christ. Praying the Rosary keeps Christ before us as we ruminate on the Gospel Mysteries.
In all these things we behold him and are changed: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (II Cor. 3:18; emphasis mine). In fact, all our devotional practices are supposed to do this.
This process is not as mysterious or ethereal as some people think. It’s common for practicing Catholics to go through phases where they feel tight-fisted with their time, talent, and treasure.
Money is tight; time is constrained; and we aren’t in the mood to give our gifts for the benefit of others. But then in our morning devotional time, we read the story of “The Widow’s Mite” in the Gospel reading for the day; or the responsorial Psalm has a strong emphasis on “offering sacrifices”; or it’s Friday and the Rosary is focused on the Sorrowful Mysteries which highlight Christ’s self-donation.
We are being “transformed by the renewing of our mind” (Rom. 12:2a; emphasis mine) as we humbly interact with the Gospel reading, responsorial Psalm, and the Rosary. We see Christ, our lives do not align with his, we make the necessary adjustments.
We partake of the Eucharist on Sunday morning but it’s important to have a “Eucharistic lifestyle” during the week where we feed on Christ every day. The Catholic faith provides a vast sacramental, devotional, and intellectual banqueting table for the saint-to-be.
We can also see the face of Christ in things that are not religiously explicit: in the waitress’ smile, the desert wild flower, a well-crafted movie, or in Mozart’s Requiem. Christ also promised us that we could find him in the “least of these my brethren”: the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, imprisoned, and the stranger (Mt. 25:31-46).
One cannot say enough good things about the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We become like the Person we adore.
Think about a young actor who is just starting out. Because he idolizes Daniel Day-Lewis, he begins to emulate him in his countenance, body language, and in the timbre of his voice.
The preeminent feature of the imitation of Christ is humility. In Day 6 of the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy Novena, Christ asks us to pray for “the meek and humble souls and the souls of little children, and immerse them in my mercy. These souls most closely resemble my heart” (emphasis mine).
Christ Has His Passion And We Have Ours
With February being the Month of the Passion of the Lord, I would be remiss to not explore how we are made into saints by entering into the fellowship of his suffering. He has his Passion and we have ours.
John the Baptist said, “He must increase, I must decrease.” As we go through affliction in this Vale of Tears, one of the major outcomes of the experience is that our thoughts, words, and deeds that are contrary to the will of God get put on the cross and are crucified.
The cross we carry begins to wield its power: we don’t share a choice morsel of gossip that was passed on to us; we don’t lose our patience with a co-worker who is slowing everyone down by struggling with an easy task; we don’t look down on “Cafeteria Catholics” or “Christmas/Easter Catholics” as we grow in the faith.
In imitating Christ’s Passion, we are like salmon returning to their native stream (=heaven). We arrive bruised and battered from the journey, but then we lay our eggs and die.
Life comes out of death. The resurrection follows the crucifixion: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn. 12:24).
The goal of becoming a saint simplifies our lives but also needs to be accompanied by some practical considerations. For one, our short-term goals should be specific and achievable.
If you’re only spending 5 minutes a day in prayer before work, whether inside or outside the home, a bad goal would be to “make more time for God.” That’s not specific enough.
A better goal would be to pray one Rosary a day before work (15-20 minutes). That’s specific and achievable and our obedience is measurable.
A young athlete doesn’t try to bench press 300 lbs. his first day in the weight room. He does what he can and progresses from there in small increments. May God give us the grace to do just that!